(Photo above by Irina Iriser via Unsplash)
Summer is here, and with the advent of longer and hotter days comes spending more time outside. Maybe this means taking more walks around the neighborhood, having picnics in the park, or taking a trip to the beach (all while maintaining a responsible six-foot distance from others, of course).
And, if you’re planning on going to the beach, I’m sure you’ve heard that the best way to treat a jellyfish sting is to pee on it. This myth was popularized by the “Friends” episode “The One With The Jellyfish” and has lasted since the episode premiered in 1997.
In the episode, Monica is stung by a jellyfish and Joey claims that a Discovery Channel program he remembered watching recommends treating the sting by urinating on it. It works to help with her pain, though it does cause a lot of embarrassment for Chandler, who had to pee on Monica after Joey backed out.
In reality, urine can potentially cause a lot of irritation if applied to a sting. Pee consists of mostly freshwater, which, if used on a jellyfish sting where the tentacle is still attached, can cause the tentacle to release more venom. Even if the tentacle is not attached to the jellyfish, the cells that release venom act independently. And applying freshwater, or pee, can cause them to activate because jellyfish live in saltwater and are used to a certain salinity in their environment. Disrupting this balance can trigger the cells to release venom.
If the tentacle is not attached to your body and you are just left with a nasty sting, urine might not cause any further pain. But it won’t relieve anything either. So if you can’t pee on a sting and you can’t flush it with freshwater, what can you do?
Rinsing the area with saltwater might be effective, as it won’t aggravate the tentacle cells. Additionally, in a 2016 study published in the scientific journal Marine Drugs, applying anti-inflammatory agents, baking soda slurries, and heat had much more positive effects on participants than negative effects. Vinegar might also help because it can inactivate jellyfish stinging cells.
Once you’ve washed the sting with saltwater, vinegar, a baking soda slurry, or your treatment of choice, do not shave the tentacle off with a razor or credit card. Some people think this is the best way to remove a remaining tentacle, but it can actually activate the stingers to release venom, according to venom scientist Christie Wilcox. Instead, gently lift the stinger using tweezers.
Now that you know “urine is worthless,” as dermatologist Joseph Burnett puts it, save your friends the embarrassment, and don’t ask them to pee on you if you get stung.
What will you do the next time you get stung?
Do like Chandler and pee on it
Be smart and use a science-backed method like vinegar